Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus reminds us about the role of universities in shaping the world.
Text Varpu Somersalo
FOREST21 is a project for strengthening capacity in South African higher education in forestry entrepreneurship. The project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union as part of the programme Capacity Building in the field of Higher Education.
In January 2021, a virtual meeting was held for all grantholders in this programme. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus held a highly inspirational speech for the participants about universities’ role in shaping the world and the importance of promoting entrepreneurship in higher education.
Human beings are born as entrepreneurs.
According to Yunus, the pandemic has given the humankind a chance to pause and start over in building a new civilization. In the pre-pandemic world, wealth has been concentrated into the hands of very few and the gap between people and wealth has been enormous. Yunus notes that universities are the architects of the current world.
“We in the universities have designed the world. And now we have to admit we designed it wrong”, he said. “Universities accumulate all the knowledge of the past and pass it to the new generation. It is an important responsibility but we forgot that our primary job is to challenge those ideas. We don’t.”
Students are currently educated to become good employees. The universities should instead recognise and cherish creativity and to give options for entrepreneurship.
When you come closer to the reality, problems become less complicated.
“Job is not the destiny of a human being. It is to flourish. We were never jobseekers in the past. We were hunters, we were farmers, we were problem-solvers. Human beings are born as entrepreneurs.”
As part of FOREST21, forestry students in South Africa will solve real-life problems on the field. Professor Yunus finds integrating learning on the field into the theoretical learning in academic institutions highly important.
“When you come closer to the reality, problems are not as complicated as they look when your extract them. Extracted problems become intellectual exercises that are not connected to the real world."
"Theories should be created once you have a goal", he added. "If you don't have a goal, don't go for a theory. Theory is like a software that is needed for solving particular problem. We have instead developed a software called economics and believe that we have to accept whatever comes out of it.”
So how do we redesign the system to bring the wealth and the people together?
“If everyone becomes an entrepreneur, there will be no wealth concentration. We work for ourselves and we do not pass it to somebody else. Young people love this idea. They want to be solution creators, not just job seekers. Life is about self-exploration and contribution.”
Purpose is the question that should lie in all levels of education. The students should constantly be asking why do they want to learn and what will they do with the knowledge they gain. Imagination should never be underestimated.
Watch the entire speech (starting from 24:32) here: